UFOwatch: Mindbender

written by Tony Barwick
directed by Ken Turner

Straker in on the Moon to investigate why an experienced pilot goes on a killing spree on Moonbase- but does the commander bring something dangerous back to Earth with him?

The SHADO HQ personnel look less shocked when it seems Commander Straker has gone crazy and attacked equipment this week because obviously after `Timelash` this has become a regular occurrence. Similarities between that episode and this abound only instead of time being frozen the culprit is a lump of crystal brought back from the Moon. Quarantine is obviously not a priority in 1980! Though more uneven than last week, there is still plenty to enjoy including Mexican bandits, General Henderson bleating and some post modernism before it was invented. It seems anything can happen in the next 45 minutes…

"If you don't stop behaving like a goat I'm going to use this cattle prod, matey" "Baaah"

The effort that goes into creating a hallucinogenic vibe can topple over into amusement very easily and the episode proves to be a warren of the unexpected, bizarre and unintentionally amusing. So the first victim , Conroy, strolls into the Moonbase control room to see three grinning, unshaven Mexicans straight out of a 1970s Bandit chocolate bar advert (“you can stand it with Bandit”) instead of three silver jumpsuit wearing purple haired models. You can understand why he might be disappointed but not why he would think it was unusual. The three girls are not asked to don false stubble or even sombreros however which would have been even more surreal. There is a contretemps ending in some dead guards which nobody seems bothered about so long as Nina is OK which she is. So that’s alright then.

Once back on Earth a bloke who for some reason goes by the nickname Beaver (thankfully they don’t tell us how he acquired it) starts to behave similarly seeing aliens instead of clipboard carrying SHADO folk. You can see where it’s leading. Despite the predictability, the way that Straker is shown turning rogue is remarkably done. An argument with General Henderson and his roaming accent (is he meant to be English or American?) evolves into a scenario where the General is bleating like a goat (yes, really) before the scene is cut by a director and we pan out to see the camera crew and studio lights.

The visions are supposed to represent something in the person’s psyche being tapped hence Straker’s film studio mixes with his secret SHADO job and the second man Captain James’ injuries caused by aliens make him see them everywhere. Not sure about Conroy’s Mexican fixation though- a really bad holiday perhaps? Anyway the scenes of Straker roaming the studios provide another Prisoner like scenario. We wonder what is going on and why people are still moving a giant white hand around the place.

It’s fair to say there are some interesting acting choices early on as director Ken Turner seems unsure whether to play this for laughs or not. Thus the scenes intercut from play acting to real injuries with the death of the first two victims being graphically displayed as they keel over, blood spewing from their mouths. As Straker is affected the tone becomes more consistently serious, best represented by his being invited to watch some rushes which turn out to be clips from both the first episode before SHADO started and `A Question of Priorities` where his son dies. The juxtaposition of Straker’s shock at seeing these memories rendered on screen and the accompanying Foster (or Mike as he is calls himself) glibly observing how well done it is makes quite an impression. This is probably what we would now call post modernism and you don’t expect it to appear in a series like this though after recent weeks perhaps we should.

The narrative is as clean and well thought out as `Timelash` with the denouement again kept till the very last moment which rather superbly echoes the repetition of filming and it’s this that gives Straker the chance to solve the problem by smashing the moon rock that causes the hallucinations. As an episode it lacks the drive that would make it a classic and the first half is uneven but it is another example of the thought and imagination that feeds into these last set of episodes. One more to go; perhaps next week General Henderson will actually turn into a goat!

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